COVID-19 as a trigger for skeletons in national closets
and the international order
Zachary Paikin
Zachary Paikin is Senior Editor at Global Brief, Visiting Fellow of the Global Policy Institute, PhD in International Relations (University of Kent). Also, Zachary is Meeting Russia Alumnus (2017).
The second seminar of the Meeting Russia Online Discussion Club was held on June 15, 2020. This time the MR's experts and members of the Club discussed COVID-19 as a trigger for skeletons in national closets and the international order.
Zachary Paikin shares his expert view on tendencies and consequences of a pandemic for national states and the global order.
Now we have polls that show only 35-40% Canadians hold a favorable view not of the president, but of the US itself. People are fundamentally shocked by the point that Donald Trump still commands the support of a significant percentage of the American population.
Canada did not have a full lockdown as in European countries, but a few days after the response to COVID began the US-Canadian border was closed, apart from essential trade traffic. Obviously, in response to the pandemic, Canada is doing better than the US, but at the same time, there is also an impact that the pandemic is having on different socio-economic groups in our country. Just like now the US is going through significant debates about Black Lives Matter movement and over police brutality questions, an aboriginal Chief was also subjected to police brutality. This demonstrates continued structural inequalities between settler-Canadians and the aboriginal community, so the elements of structural discrimination are still present in our society, even if this is not as dominant in Canadian political discourse as in the US. For sure US and Canada have common elements in political culture, but you can observe a dynamic under the Trump presidency when the majority of the Canadian population no longer have a favorable view of the US, and it is a very significant development. Now we have polls that show only 35-40% Canadians hold a favorable view not of the president, but of the US itself. People are fundamentally shocked by the point that Donald Trump still commands the support of a significant percentage of the American population. Going forward, questions surrounding sovereignty and borders are also going to be very important in today's globalized world. In recent years Canada has had a goal of substantially increasing its immigration rate. Prior to the pandemic, the government announced the plans that by 2021 the number of new immigrants to Canada will reach 350 000 people per year. Whether this goal will continue after the pandemic will be interesting to observe.
U.S. Customs officers stand beside a sign at the US/Canada border in Lansdowne, Ontario, on March 22, 2020. Lars Hagberg / AFP via Getty Images
Globally, the COVID pandemic exacerbated existing trends rather than created really new ones in large. That is certainly true when it comes to great power rivalry. The US and China have descended into an across-the-board, zero-sum relationship. That has been the most notable phenomenon so far.
You can also see this trend of acceleration in some longer-lasting trends in the post-war era, for example, state sovereignty, and that comes back to the question of borders. To what extent we are going to see a retreat of globalization or not? Obviously, in the economic realm supply chains are much more easily said to be able to decouple than can actually be done. There is a strong economic logic that underpins a lot in global supply chains. So as much as the US would like to decouple from China, a lot of this will happen by means of automatic continuation of existing trends, including the rise of Southeast Asia.
Any deliberate attempt to craft in today's globalized world a cohesive bloc to contain China is probably a non-starter. In terms of strategic supplies like personal protective equipment, this may need to become more autonomic, but that is different from a full-scale reverse of globalization. We can observe deglobalization in the political world but less in the economic realm. That's why I think the impact of the COVID pandemic reflects a lot of debates that have been going on for several decades concerning sovereignty and to what extent should we see international integration.
I think a central question will concern whether countries like Canada, Russia and European countries will be able to put aside their existing differences and disputes and to see what they have in common in terms of establishing a global order that secures our shared interest in polycentrism, a rules-based framework and open international trade.
In my view, one of the myths the West is scared by is that Russia is a mirror image, sort of image that we don't want to become, because when we stand for internationalism and integration, allegedly we see Russia stands for strict state sovereignty, nationalism and a different view to addressing questions surrounding minorities. Of course, this is a complete simplification, because there is a strong internationalist dimension in Russia's foreign policy as well. You could say the elements of internationalist foreign policy are more instrumentally applied than genuinely applied, but that's the case of the United States as well. The US and China both are selective practitioners of multilateralism, there is nothing special there. Rather, this is probably reinforced by a long-term obsession in the West with viewing Russia as an enigma.

Today, the US is less committed to maintaining the liberal international order and is more interested in zero-sum rivalry to prioritize its own narrow interests over a global governance agenda. You see the US emphasizing its own sovereignty and the Trump administration has already withdrawn from several international agreements. Non-great powers in the European Union and Canada started to reflect on where their place actually lies within this world of sovereignties increasingly reasserting themselves. This might actually represent a very interesting opportunity to discuss the future relations the EU and Canada will have with Russia, as all of these countries together are sharing an interest in avoiding a new cold war or increasing bipolarity between the US and China. Canada doesn't want rigid blocs: we want an open, rules-based trading system. Canada is heavily dependent on international trade. We need FDI because our population is too small to extract the resources that we have in our own borders, so we are internationalist and in favor of many centers of power by necessity. Russia is for political reasons also interested in maintaining its own independent great power status, related to its domestic political identity as well as to avoid bipolarity. I think a central question will concern whether countries like Canada, Russia and European countries will be able to put aside their existing differences and disputes and to see what they have in common in terms of establishing a global order that secures our shared interest in polycentrism, a rules-based framework and open international trade. An in this context, what future are sovereign states are going to play, versus blocs? Every single country needs to tackle this question in one way or another.